When natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy strike, the list of ways thieves try to take advantage of people who want to help is almost endless. Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper and Secretary of State Tre Hargett urge Tennesseans to do their homework to ensure that they know where their money is going before making contributions.
"Every time there is a disaster, Tennesseans always live up to what our state is known for: volunteering," Attorney General Cooper said, "and we hope everyone who can, will help. But be careful that your heart-felt contribution does not end up in some opportunist's personal bank account."
The Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming, part of Secretary of State Tre Hargett's office, is authorized to investigate and impose civil penalties against individuals or groups who engage in fraudulent or misleading fundraising activities.
"We urge everyone who suspects fraudulent activity to call the Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming," said Secretary Hargett. "We want to help ensure that donations made to charitable causes actually reach the people they are intended to help."
Before making a contribution, state officials suggest:
*Make sure the charity is one you know and trust. If you are donating to a charity in Tennessee, that charity is generally required to be registered with the Secretary of State's Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming.
*If someone contacts you to make a donation, make sure you know to whom you are speaking and verify that person's identity before giving out personal information.
*Don't give in the heat of the moment. Take time to investigate and determine whether the charity is legitimate and will send your contribution where it says it will.
*If you are asked to make a contribution, find out how much money is actually going where you intend it to go. Some professional solicitors take the lion's share of the donations with very little going to the charity.
*Never send cash. It's important to have a record, such as a cashed check or credit card receipt, to make sure the charity receives your donation as well as for tax purposes.
To get detailed information on how organizations spend their money, you can visit the Secretary of State's web site at: http://tnsos.org/charitable/CharitableOrgReports.php
Anyone who wishes to report suspicious activity or verify an organization's registration status may contact the Division of Charitable Solicitations and Gaming at (615) 741-2555.